COVID-19: Mitsubishi Aircraft cutting US operations, staff for SpaceJet programme development

Company will maintain minimal staff to store and maintain test aircraft

Mitsubishi SpaceJet
(PHOTO: Mitsubishi Aircraft)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), parent company of Mitsubishi Aircraft, will cut hundreds of jobs in the US state of Washington and is closing down its operations for its much delayed SpaceJet regional aircraft as the company copes with the collapse of the commercial aviation worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mitsubishi Aircraft US headquarters in Renton will close and flight test operations in Moses Lake will cease with only a token number of employees remaining to store and maintain the four flight test aircraft there.

A Mitsubishi Aircraft communications official in Japan told Asian Aviation that due to the current state of the aviation industry and its global impact, “Mitsubishi Aircraft has had to make very difficult decisions. We informed our employees of the direct implications” last week in the US and Japan.

The spokesman said as MHI said when it released its financial results on 11 May in Tokyo,  “the global pandemic has severely impacted the MHI Group’s aviation activities and in particular, Mitsubishi Aircraft’s SpaceJet programme. During the briefing, MHI announced that the development of the SpaceJet M100 has been postponed and the company’s budget was significantly reduced.”

Since the announcement, the spokesman said, company leadership has been assessing the financial impact to the company and its entire global operations. “As a result, Mitsubishi Aircraft has had to make difficult decisions that will significantly reduce its global activities and will have a major impact on its organisation. Due to budget directives, Mitsubishi Aircraft informed employees…that activities at its flight test centre in Moses Lake will reduce to a minimal staff who will focus on maintaining and preserving the aircraft. All other overseas locations will close and Mitsubishi Aircraft will consolidate remaining activities at its headquarters in Nagoya, Japan.”

The regional jet programme had at one point supported about 400 jobs flight testing the initial M90 model in Moses Lake, along with 200 jobs in Seattle at Mitsubishi’s US partner AeroTEC, which provided testing, engineering and certification support.

MHI earlier announced a net loss of US$275 million for the fiscal year ending in March. Management deemed that not acceptable as it faces the pandemic-driven downturn affecting all of Mitsubishi’s aviation operations, including its supply of major parts for Boeing jets. The results also showed the SpaceJet bleeding cash, with development costs of US$1.3 billion in the last fiscal year.

The aircraft was launched as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet in 2008 with the goal to enter service five years later. After setbacks, it began flight tests in 2015 in Japan, then in 2016 moved the flight testing to Moses Lake in eastern Washington. Mitsubishi last year rebranded the plane as the SpaceJet and revamped the concept, but has continued to face setbacks.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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